December 01, 2002

Real Women Have Curves

Real Women poster Real Women Have Curves

My Big Fat Greek Wedding has the hype, the big budget, and the high-ticket producers, and it's a fine, funny movie; but Real Women Have Curves has the heart (and the curves).

This produces an odd result. The former, set in Chicago, is definitely a "Hollywood film" (even though not to the extent of a glitz-vehicle for a Jennifer Lopez-type); the latter film is set in Hollywood but is vastly more real in atmosphere. Both are based on a stage play that tells the real-life bildungsroman of the protagonist. The one protagonist is a Greek-American woman entering her 30s, a disappointment to her family for being plain, overweight, and still unmarried. Its strokes are broad but, with the exception of a bottle of Windex, Toula's family are eerily like mine, in a different language. Curves, based on the play by Josefina Lopez, features Ana, an 18-year-old whose family emigrated to California from Mexico. Her mother, Carmen, unapologetically demands Ana work in her sister Stela's dressmaking shop after high-school graduation instead of venturing to college. Carmen relies on both prayer and pestering to bring Ana into line; the more determined Carmen's prayers, the more Ana is compelled toward her own path.

When Ana grouses that not only is it too hot in the dressmaking shop, but they work in a sweatshop, as if she's enlightening the women there, she is simply told to get back to work steam-ironing the fancy dresses they sell to a corporation for $18 to be sold at Bloomingdales for $600. Later, when she has come to understand the hard work the women put in to support themselves, to maintain their independence, to stand by Stela as long as possible, Ana not merely complains about the heat but takes off her shirt to cool off. Her mother is aghast (Ana is too fat, too unattractive, and of course unmarriageable); but the other women follow suit, a room of women of varying shapes and curviness, all completely human, non-airbrushed, complete with cellulite. I want to say "more beautiful than Halle Berry or George Clooney's artfully lit Solaris tushy," but those who will believe me don't need to be told, and those who won't believe me, won't get it.

Pancha's (Soledad St. Hilaire) large, beautiful body has, she says, stretchmarks from east to west. The teenager's curves may be smooth but they are generously full. The thin woman among them (Rosali, played by Lourdes Perez) shows off her cellulite first apologetically, then in pride. Only Ana's mother finds the spectacle shameful, but her reasons are complexly multilayered, and I won't spoil the moment by revealing them here.

Ana's hope lies in going to college, the viewer may think at first, but the film doesn't let that choice stay obvious or easy. Hope extends beyond the boundaries of the film; Stela has begun to design her own line of dresses, dresses for the women she knows, dresses cut to flatter realistic curves. If this were just a cinematic fairy-tale, we would immediately hear about Stela's successes with her own line, rather than seeing, instead, her steadfast determination not to be the deciding factor in Ana's future no matter how desperate her own needs.

Call parts of it predictable and you acknowledge that it's as predictable as life. There's nothing fairy-tale about the ending, unless you mean fairy-tale in its deepest oldest sense of fundamental issues between parents and children left unresolved. It's the real-life way people—people you may know, if you also felt you knew the gaggle of relatives in My Big Fat Greek Wedding—react and behave that make this a treasure. One or two lines of dialogue could have used an editorial file to smooth them over, and a pair of peripheral characters never much come into focus. The guy with a crush on Ana is a bit bland (but, let's be honest, fellas, aren't most guys a little nebulous in high school?). And the production isn't Hollywood-slick, but I wouldn't call it rough. Once again, I'd call it real (that would be "real" and in "how life feels," not "artsy grainy jumping the camera around").

America Ferrera is solid as Ana. Lupe Ontiveros (she has appeared in Selena, As Good As It Gets, the television series Greetings from Tucson) as Carmen is phenomenal, performing the astounding magic of a great character actor. Ingrid Oliu portrays Ana's older sister Estela with utter believability.

Jorge Cervera Jr. and Felipe de Alba are Ana's father and grandfather, respectively. The deep love between Ana's parents, which Ana may be completely unaware of, is warmly portrayed by the veteran actors. That some reviewers seem to want to call the grandfather's understanding of Ana and her situation a cliche demonstrates only that those reviewers are out of touch with the dynamics of such a family, the long experience and understanding created by surviving to be the elder of the family, observant of the generations and a part of their daily lives.

Visit the website. Better yet, skip the website, see the film.

My outside food for this was a bottle of Snapple Turbulence Shredded Lemon Juice Drink. Much like having a lemon custard stage a hostile takeover of your mouth, if you like that sort of thing, which I didn't. Palatable when watered down over a Complimentary Paper Cup of Ice.

Posted by OutsideFood at December 1, 2002 12:00 PM

Since the site isn't updated regularly, and since the comments feature is constantly abused by spammers, Comments are now disallowed. Sorry!